Turn the Funnel Upside Down for Better ROI Planning

Many conventional marketers depict the progression from prospect to buyer as a funnel starting with impressions at the top and working down through the sales cycle to responses, leads, qualified leads and finally buyers. This approach tells a top-to-bottom chronological story of the promotion process.

Many conventional marketers depict the progression from prospect to buyer as a funnel starting with impressions at the top and working down through the sales cycle to responses, leads, qualified leads and finally buyers. This approach tells a top-to-bottom chronological story of the promotion process.

Better ROI chart
Credit: Chuck McLeester

But turning the funnel upside down provides a much more useful approach to planning ROI. It has its roots in the fundamental principles of direct response: customer lifetime value (LTV) and allowable acquisition cost (AAC).

Better ROI chart 2
Credit: Chuck McLeester

You can start out at the top of the upside-down funnel using your customer lifetime value, or if you’re interested in getting a specific return on a short-term promotion, you can use the value of a one-time transaction. Either way, you’re starting with the value of a customer — be it short-term or long-term.

Once you determine a revenue point to work with, set a target ROI and calculate your AAC (allowable acquisition cost). For this illustration, let’s assume that the transaction is worth $200 and our target ROI at 2:1. This results in an AAC of $100; that is, the amount we can spend to get the transaction.

AAC chart by Chuck McLeesterAs you move to the lower portions of the upside-down funnel, you apply assumptions about the conversion rates at each stage. You may have some historical data on which to base these assumptions, but if you don’t apply industry standards or make educated guesstimates. Ultimately, you’ll learn what the actual rates are in a well-constructed test scenario. For example, if you assume that 30 percent of all qualified leads will convert to buyers, then the allowable cost per qualified lead is $30.

Qualified lead formula for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester

Similarly, you can calculate the allowable cost per lead, cost per response and cost per impression all the way to the base of the upside-down funnel. So if you estimate that two-thirds of your leads will be qualified, your allowable cost per lead is $20, and so on.

Allowable cost/lead formula for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester

 As you reach the bottom of the upside-down funnel, you can determine the required response rates from each medium under consideration. You can either make an assumption about the percentage of clicks, calls or responses that will turn into leads, or you can go straight to calculating the number of leads you need from each medium based on the media cost as shown here.

Final graphic for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester
  1. Divide the cost of the media by the allowable lead cost to determine the number of leads required from each medium
  2. Divide the number of leads required by the circulation or number of impressions associated with that medium

For example,

Final formula for better ROI
Credit: Chuck McLeester

 (These calculations can also be done on a CPM basis).

Then, do a gut-check. Is that response rate realistic? Don’t know? Test it. A carefully controlled small test will quantify your assumptions at each point of the upside-down funnel.

Planning ROI? Turn the Funnel Upside-Down

Many marketers use a funnel to illustrate the progression from prospect to buyer because the narrowing graphic neatly shows the narrowing segments of the sales progression. Most construct the funnel by starting at the top and working their down chronologically through the sales cycle.  They apply projected percentages to each stage, funnel down to a number of buyers, calculate revenue based on average sale, and determine ROI based on promotion costs.

Many marketers use a funnel to illustrate the progression from prospect to buyer because the narrowing graphic neatly shows the narrowing segments of the sales progression. Most construct the funnel by starting at the top and working their down chronologically through the sales cycle. They apply projected percentages to each stage, funnel down to a number of buyers, calculate revenue based on average sale, and determine ROI based on promotion costs.

A different approach to using the funnel starts at the bottom. It has its roots in the tried and true direct response principles of Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) and Allowable Acquisition Cost (AAC). Because these two principles are the components that make up ROI (with LTV as the “R” and AAC as the “I”), the upside-down funnel becomes a useful tool for planning and creating ROI scenarios.

Start with the value of a customer. Set a target ROI and calculate your AAC. For this illustration, let’s assume that a buyer is worth $300 and we set our revenue target ROI at 3:1. This results in an AAC of $100.

See Equation No. 1 in the media player at right.

As you move to the lower portions of the upside down funnel, you apply assumptions about the conversion rates at each stage. For example, if you assume that 30 percent of all qualified leads will convert to buyers, then the Allowable Cost per Qualified Lead is $30.

See Equation No. 2 in the media player at right.

Similarly, you can calculate the Allowable Cost Per Lead, Per Response, and Per Impression all the way to the top of the upside down funnel. So if you estimate that two-thirds of your leads will be qualified, your Allowable Cost per Lead is $20, and so on.

When you reach the bottom of the upside-down funnel, it becomes particularly useful for media planning. You can determine the required response rates from each medium under consideration by:

  1. Dividing the cost of the media by the Allowable Lead Cost to determine the number of leads required from each medium
  2. Dividing the number of leads required by the circulation or number of impressions associated with the medium

For example, see Equation Nos. 3 and 4 in the media player at right.

Then, do a gut check. Is that response rate attainable? Don’t know? Test it. A carefully controlled small test will quantify your assumptions at each point of the upside-down funnel.